OSCII Activity B.12

Microbial management in organic viticulture: Pre-inoculating vines with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal inoculants

Activity summary

The arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis is arguably one of the most important mutualisms in nature, yet its role as an organic amendment is unrealized for viticulture. The management of AM fungi in viticultural soils has the potential to decreases losses, improve yields and even influence the chemical composition of the berries.  This presents an enormous capacity for growers to manage and manipulate their crop to specific outcomes. Our proposed project has both direct economic benefits to the organic industry, as well as providing basic research in several areas. As it stands, we know little about this mutualism in viticultural systems. While the AM symbiosis has been well-studied in other systems, its relationship with Vitis spp., and perennials in general, has been largely unexplored. This study will provide information about the intensity, dependency and functionality of AM fungi in a perennial crop. We will provide extensive information on vine response to fungi. 

This study will also help growers reduce losses using sustainable, beneficial methods. Root pathogens are notoriously difficult to treat without the use of harmful chemicals. The use of pre-inoculated AM fungi would be a boon to this agro-system, among many others where root pathogens claim a significant amount of initial plantings. 

Our study will help us understand how the origin of AM fungal inoculum affects plant response, a topic that is far from resolved. Do locally sourced inocula provide more benefits because they are adapted to growing conditions? Or are there inocula that are universally beneficial for particular host plants? We also know little about the persistence of AM fungal inocula; this work will provide some of the first results on how microbes establish and persist in novel environments. We know little of the success of AMF inoculation, nor how they influence other microbiota.

With this study, we are introducing viticulturalists to soil microbial management. Presently, the role of AM fungi in these systems has received little attention, compared to other cropping systems which have embraced soil microbes as an integral part of crop management. By managing AM fungi in vineyards, growers will be able to produce a higher quality crop using less water and nutrient amendments. This will translate into a cost benefit, but will also help viticulturalists become leaders in sustainable organic agriculture. Further, we will establish the role that fungal mutualists play in enhancing berry quality, which translates into desirable wine characteristics.

This project meets many of the Research Objectives outlined by the Research and Innovation Working Group Research Priorities (2011) including 2) Plants - efficacy and fertility aspects of growth promoters; 3) Soils - elucidating soil biological activity and how to manage it beneficially; 4) Ecological Systems - assessing water quality and water use efficiency - optimizing soil quality; and 5) Food Quality and Health - evaluating the concentration of nutrients, antioxidants and other bio-constituents in food products and developing plant and animal production systems that optimize levels of these constituents - assessing the relationships between the quality of soils, amendments, plants, animals and food.  While our study system is the Okanagan organic wine industry, we anticipate that our work will be applicable to other organic systems in promoting the use of naturally occurring symbiotic fungi to improve produce quality and reduce the need for watering and nutrient additions simply by improving the efficiencies of these natural systems.

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Miranda Hart, Activity Leader University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Patricia Bowen Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre – Summerland


Activity graduate students

Corrina Thomsen